Commercial space race lifts off in China

Updated 2018-02-02 09:41:01

Increasing number of private start-ups entering satellite, rocket market

With more private firms and investors entering the commercial aerospace industry in China over the past three years, the sector, which is currently focused on satellites and rockets, is set to realize enormous value in the near future, industry analysts told the Global Times on Wednesday.

In 2014, the State Council, China's cabinet, formally announced it would allow private companies to research, manufacture and launch as well as operate commercial satellites, which prompted a batch of Chinese entrepreneurs to excitedly pitch some ideas in the industry.

One of those included Yang Feng, CEO of satellite-maker Spacety, which is based in Changsha, capital of Central China's Hunan Province.

Founded in 2016, Spacety has had four of its miniature satellites - designed mainly for scientific research - launched into space so far.

"Most customers of Spacety's satellites are universities and research institutes, plus we have also cooperated with some commercial firms," Yang told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Spacety also plans to have 15 more miniature satellites sent into space this year, which, if done successfully, will further promote the mass production of commercial satellites, said Yang.

The number of China's orbital launches has been on the increase since 2010, bringing the total number of satellites launched from the country in the past 50 years to about 190, while private firms have unveiled plans to launch more than 20 satellites in each of the next two years, the Financial Times reported in November 2017.

On top of the entry restriction ease, the government proposed in 2015 the strategy of integrating civilian and military cooperation in technology to promote the country's space programs, which has further resulted in the rapid development of China's private space sector.

"Taking advantage of the country's opening-up in the aerospace sector, which used to be dominated by State-owned enterprises [SOEs], more private firms have the demand to explore space," Yang said.

For example, a cloud services firm might want to realize data-saving in the space sector, which Spacety can help customize and help launch the business into space, Yang noted.

CubeSat generation

"A new generation of macro satellites or cube satellites [CubeSats] has seen rising numbers and popularity over recent years, since they can be designed and made in a relatively short period of time at lower costs compared with those big ones usually made by the SOEs," said Lan Tianyi, founder of Beijing-based Ultimate Blue Nebula Co, a space industry consultancy.

CubeSat is a type of miniaturized satellite for space research that is usually made up of multiples of 10x10x10 cubic centimeter units with a mass of no more than 1.4 kilograms per unit. Hundreds of this type of satellite have been deployed into low-Earth orbit and the number is increasing sharply.

"It's hard for these small satellites [those with a mass less than 500 kilograms] to find an exclusive launch vehicle to be sent into space with, since the traditional launch vehicle is much larger," Lan explained, noting the small satellites often have to "carpool" with bigger satellites to act as the secondary payload of a launch mission.

"Although it costs less for the miniature satellites to be carried on the larger launch vehicles, they have to follow the orbit of the big ones instead of going wherever they want to go," Lan told the Global Times Wednesday.

Against this backdrop, private space companies that can make small rockets and provide exclusive launch services have also emerged, including Beijing-based start-up One Space Technology Co.

Targeting the small launch rocket market, One Space has secured financing worth 500 million yuan (.52 million) so far since its establishment in August 2015, domestic news site reported in January.

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